Of all the pop culture mysteries in my life, perhaps the biggest had been what happened to Deven English.
This one might take some time to explain because it’s been a while. Let’s start at the beginning, so we can get to the end of a journey that spans the entire length of my career as a writer.
The story begins at the end of the 1960’s when TV cartoon Filmation Associates ordered a Hardy Boys cartoon, based on the classic juvenile mystery book series credited to Franklin W. Dixon, for the 1969/1970 TV season. Riding high on their animated Archie series, the unbelievable had happened when a bubblegum pop song from the show, Sugar Sugar, shot to the top of the Billboard Charts. Looking to repeat the success, Filmation sought to recreate the formula in their next animated series by having Frank and Joe Hardy, along with friends Wanda Kay, Pete Jones and Chubby Morton, be a traveling rock band that solved mysteries along the way. One of the pitfalls that the producers had with The Archies was that the group, fronted by Ron Dante, that recorded Sugar Sugar and were having further chart success with follow up songs like Jingle Jangle and Bang-Shang-a-Lang, was that they didn’t look like the Archie characters making them impossible to send out on the concert circuit.
So the producers of the Hardy Boys – Lou Shriemer, Norm Prescott and Hal Sutherland – got a great idea. What if for The Hardy Boys they hired some actual professional musicians that resembled the cartoon characters, had them appear in the opening credits of the series, have them actually record the music on the albums and send them out on the road? To do this the studio contacted Dunwich Records in Chicago, where things were really happening. Chicago had its own unique music scene featuring brassy horn sections and lots of fuzz guitar, and bands such as The American Breed, The Shadows of Knight, The New Colony Six and The Guess Who were putting Dunwich on the map as the place to record.
Under the guidance of BilL Traught and Jim Golden a group was assembled to represent The Hardy Boys – Reed Kailing and Jeff Taylor as Frank and Joe Hardy, Norbert “Nibs” Solystiak as Chubby Morton, Bob Crowder as Pete Jones and Deven English as girl singer Wand Kay. Two unassuming but well produced albums would be released – Here Comes the Hardy Boys in 1969 and Wheels in 1970. The group appeared on TV, Chicago area clubs and were sent on the road to the American South on the Country Fair circuit. when their single, Love and Let Love, hit the charts in some local markets. But, unfortunately, lightening did not strike twice. The Hardy Boys didn’t hit big and the project petered out. The music, and the band, slipped quietly into obscurity. Or so it seemed.
I don’t remember anymore when I first heard of The Hardy Boys but one night in the early 2000’s I discovered the story and went down that rabbit hole in an unexpected way. One by one I found and interviewed members of the group who shared their individual and often conflicting memories of their time with The Hardy Boys. First, I found Norb Solystiak, who was my first interview with popcultureaddict.com, then Jeff Taylor who worked as a goldsmith in Wisconsin. Next was Reed Kailing, who was easy to find due to his colorful musical career, and finally Bob Crowder, who was reported to be deceased but was alive and well in Ontario, California (Bob would eventually pass away in 2013). As a unit I discovered the stories of a group of young musicians with separate musical aspirations and budding careers who went on this weird little bubble gum trail, but eventually went on to other things and thought little about The Hardy Boys. Meanwhile, as I posted the interviews online, I received emails and messages by record collectors, cartoon fans and people who remember seeing them during their short tenure. There was a real, albeit small, fan base out there for The Hardy Boys.
But one member of the band remained a mystery. Whatever happened to girl singer Deven English? The guys in the band didn’t know, and there was no sign of her to be found. I knew very little about Deven. To make things difficult, I did know that Deven English’s real name wasn’t Deven English. I also knew she originally came from Colorado, that she had worked as a bunny at the Chicago Playboy Club, that she and Jeff Taylor had formed a relationship during The Hardy Boys and moved to Colorado after the group disbanded but broke up sometime afterwards. But the strangest story was of the final time anyone had every seen her. According to Reed Kailing, he had ran into Deven English in the 1970’s during the time he wad with The Grass Roots where she was working outside a scientology temple in Los Angeles. But despite my efforts I couldn’t find a trace of Deven English. Was she out there living under another name? Had the scientologists got her? Did she not want to be found? Was she even alive? Nobody seemed to know….until now.
It’d been a long time since I did anything on The Hardy Boys, and my original Hardy Boys work has long disappeared from the internet. But in late 2020 I was contacted by a New Jersey based writer named Barry M. Putt who was doing research for his upcoming book The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew on Film, TV, and Stage, to be published in early 2022 by BearManor Media. Barry was interested in looking at my work. The Hardy Boys was a story I had planned to get back to one day, but after talking to Barry I felt comfortable giving him over my material for use in his book. It was then that he revealed to me that he had spoken to two members of the band himself. I expected that it’d have been Reed and Jeff, but to my shock he revealed it had been Reed Kailing and Deven English.
I don’t know how Barry found Deven, but a few emails connected myself and the missing former girl singer, and she didn’t disappoint with her story. Now living in California and working as an educator, after eighteen years of research I can present the final of The Hardy Boys interviews and finally reveal the story of Deven English.
Sam: Deven, its sort of an astonishing thing for me to be talking to you. In my past I spent so much time running down The Hardy Boys rabbit hole, doing research and talking to fans and your former band mates, but you were the most mysterious element to the story. Nobody knew what happened to you or where you were, which made me wonder if you didn’t want to be found, or might be dead.
Deven: Oh gosh. Well, I’ve been existing. I just didn’t have any connection with anyone from the band in the present.
Sam: Well, nobody had contact with each other at all when I started doing my research. I mean, it’s so long ago nobody felt the need or the desire.
Deven: I think you might be right. You’ve been doing this for fifteen years?
Sam: Maybe closer to eighteen years. It’s a story I had been planning on getting back to eventually, so I guess here we are. Are you surprised there are still people out there who are curious about The Hardy Boys?
Deven: It is surprising to me. I can’t figure it out. Is it the music? I can’t imagine it’s the music. I mean, it was okay but I can’t imagine that many people are into bubble gum anymore. I think maybe it’s The Hardy Boys itself – the books? I don’t know. It is surprising.
Sam: I wonder if it’s a matter of that the fans discovered the albums at a certain time or place, or perhaps saw you in concert. They constructed a memory at a certain place in time that endeared the band to them. So all I know about you is from press material gathered together from the original Hardy Boys project, and the few things that the guys in the group told me about you. You were from Boulder, Colorado, right?
Deven: Well I was born in Denver, but I went to college in Boulder.
Sam: What brought you out to Chicago?
Deven: Playboy. It was kind of a silly thing. I was eighteen and at college, and they were going to open a Playboy Club in Denver. I had done some modeling, and I had tried to be Miss Colorado. So I decided to go for an interview for that. But I didn’t understand anything about it. Well, they said “You have to be 21 if you are going to work in Denver, but do you want to go to Chicago?” Chicago is where Hugh Hefner’s mansion was. I was majoring in music, so I couldn’t leave school, so I applied to transfer to Western. I got in, and moved to Chicago and tried to work for Playboy and to go to school at the same time and I was able to live in the mansion.
Sam: What was that like?
Deven: Interesting. I met many many famous people there because they were apparently friends with Hefner and went there to do interviews. I was a little bit like a duck out of water because I was really naïve. At that time, as far as I knew, there was no drugs there. I didn’t do drugs. I was very hard working. I was never a Playmate. I didn’t pose nude for the magazine.
Sam: You had one photo published for the magazine, which was for a Playboy Club special and you were fully clothed.Deven: Yeah. But I couldn’t do any nude photos. It was against my principles. So, I worked in the Playboy Club and lived in the mansion and met everybody from Tiny Tim to Shel Silverstein. I became friends with Shel, who also lived there when he came to town. He got me hooked on children’s books and we would go out to buy children’s books together.
Sam: The name I hear thrown around in conjunction with you was Vic Damone.
Deven: Yeah. That was at another club in Lake Geneva. Playboy had a resort there and really big names came to play there. Liza Minelli and Mel Torme and Vic Damone came to perform there. I don’t know how I came to meet Vic Damone. I was working there and my brothers came down to work there too as waiters. Vic let me sing on stage. I opened for him. In Jeff Taylor’s interview he told you I was classically trained, which was true. But I was more into jazz.
Sam: Did you have major aspirations for music?
Deven: Yes I did. I was involved with it in school, and was a good pianist, but I majored in voice. But I was very straight, and I wasn’t into rock n’ roll. I was into Barbra Streisand.
Sam: When you got involved with The Hardy Boys were you still involved with Playboy?
Deven: No. I had left Playboy and went back to college for a semester in Boulder. But I felt like I wasn’t going anywhere in Colorado. I didn’t want to pursue music there, so I went back to Chicago and Playboy said I could live in the mansion for fifty dollars a month. So I did modeling and singing. But I think it was somebody from the management company putting together The Hardy Boys had contacted Playboy and it was through them that I found out about it.
Sam: Was there an audition process for you?
Deven: I don’t remember standing and singing for somebody. I just got the part. I think the guys had to audition. I know Bob, to me, was the token black guy although he was a professional musician. He was the best. And I was the token girl. I don’t think anybody cared about the music.
Sam: Do you remember working at Dunwich Studios and making the albums? There were some pretty interesting groups that were recording there at the same time including The Guess Who, Coven and The Shadows of Knight.
Deven: I remember The Guess Who, but I don’t remember much about them. I read that, at the time, it was the place to record. I remember what we were doing.
Sam: Although you and the guys were all musicians, you were thrown together because you resembled the animated characters for the cartoon series and were supposed to do these bubble gum songs. How did you all mesh together?
Deven: I think everybody was doing their own thing, and we just decided to take the job. It sounded like a career move, but it didn’t turn out that way. There was a lot of excitement about the TV aspect of it. The Monkees and The Archies were big at that time.
Sam: Yes, those groups were sort of the gateway for The Hardy Boys, which was really a spinoff of The Archies.
Deven: Exactly. So we thought we might get known, or have some success. But nobody was into that kind of music, but it was okay. Nobody cared.
Sam: I have a love for bubblegum from that era. In a critical view, I find some of the material on The Hardy Boys albums to be really great. Love and Let Love is a nice little song, and there is some actual genuine meat to That’s That and Sink or Swim. But meanwhile songs like Namby Pamby are really awful.
Deven: Well, it was well produced and well-engineered and, technically, it was good. We were working with the best people at that time and we were professional musicians. But it just wasn’t anything that any of us wanted to pursue in the future.
Sam: Some of the most interesting stories I got from the guys in the band, which I think all had a big effect on them, was when the band was sent to the South to tour the country fair circuit. Love or Let Love became a regional hit in the southern states and I know that there were some really tense moments on the road that the guys didn’t forget.
Deven: Yeah. That was kinda interesting. We were down thee a lot. Even in Southern Illinois, which I never thought as the South. There is a lot of prejudice there, which surprised me. I knew it was down further South but not every area. But it was frightening unfortunately. They wouldn’t let us into restaurants or hotels. First of all, they didn’t want hippies with long hair, but mostly it was because of Bob. They didn’t want black people in their hotel or restaurant. I think it was pretty trying. It was difficult. I had a little bit of exposure to that kind of prejudice because I had family who lived in South Texas and when I was fifteen I went to visit them for the summer and they had white bathrooms and black bathrooms. So I knew it existed, but I had never experienced having someone tell me I couldn’t go into a restaurant because I was with someone who was black. It was eye opening, and hard for us.
Sam: One of the things that seems to be different with every member of the group I spoke to is how The Hardy Boys ended. Everybody has different take on the story, with some difficult questions asked. What is your recollection of the ending of the group? When did you know it was over?
Deven: It came to a screeching halt. It wasn’t successful. To me, we were very uneducated in the business world of music. I was at least. I think there was a lot of mismanagement by the guys running the project, which was Jim Golden and Bill Traut. We didn’t get residuals. I remember going on tour and one time we came back and after and we ended up having to sleep in the RCA studio because there hadn’t been an arrangement for a hotel. So that’s when I knew it was done. But I don’t remember a moment in time that they called us in and told me we were through. It just kind of dissolved.
Sam: One of the difficult questions asked by the other band members, who each have their own opinion and concern, was what happened to the money. Do you have any insight to that?
Deven: I don’t think it was every handled legally. I don’t remember making money. I wonder how I survived. I guess we lived in hotels and they paid for food on the road. But as far as any salary or residuals I don’t think we ever got that. I think the management company kept it. I don’t know, but I don’t think they were honest.
Sam: So, the ‘story’ that has gone around as long as I’ve been researching The Hardy Boys is that the last time anyone ever saw Deven English was that she was working outside Scientology temple in Los Angeles.
Sam: That is ‘the story.’
Deven: Oh gosh. No. I don’t think so. That did not happen. That would have been way long in the future.
Sam: So, what happened after that?
Deven: Well, I was in a relationship with Jeff Taylor and we had decided to go to Colorado because the Hardy Boys was over. By that point I had transformed into being a hippie from being a bunny, and I was into rock n’ roll and my musical taste had changed. So we bought land and built a cabin and we were doing nothing. Jeff is an artist and he was painting. But we were just hippies. We were there for a while. I was with Jeff for about five years. Jeff had painted a mural on the side of a Volkswagen, and we travelled across Canada in that. We went to alternative media conferences and protested the Viet Name War and got tear gassed. We were together a long time, but then we drifted apart and he went back to Wisconsin. I stayed in Colorado and I moved into a cabin on my own, because I was really embedded into that lifestyle. So I lived there by myself. I was doing drugs at the time. I didn’t read anybody mention in your other interviews if The Hardy Boys were doing drugs, but we were. I was introduced into that world through the Hardy Boys, but it was pretty innocent. It was just marijuana. I guess we learn from experiences, but I don’t think that time in my life was sort of a waste of those years. Some people think its romantic, but I don’t know. I got to the point where I just couldn’t sustain it anymore.
Sam: So what was the turning point for you?
Deven: Well, like I said, I was into jazz and I went to a club in Boulder to go see Chick Corea. He must not have been as famous as he got, but I went to him after the show and said to him “You’re my favorite and I just wanted you to know how much I admire your work.” He wanted to have coffee. I didn’t know why, but whatever. I was a hippie, and he was not. So anyway, I got to know him really well and I had a relationship with him for three years. He lived in New York, and I lived in Colorado. I lived in the cabin with no resources, and Chick said, “Think about what you want to do and do it.” So, I ended up going in a Volkswagen with a friend to San Francisco. She had a contact with Joe Walsh and Neil Young and we ended up in San Francisco with them. I ended up going to LA and working for Crosby, Stills Nash and Young and The Eagles, and Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell were involved.
Sam: Sure, the Laurel Canyon crowd.
Deven: Yeah. I didn’t live with Chick because he lived in New York, but he came to LA a lot. We were going to get married, but it turned out he didn’t want children. He already had been married and he had two children. So that came to and end. I was still working for Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. I think it was called Frontline Management. It was pretty exciting because it was a time they were at the top of their game. I was a personal assistance, but in actual fact more of a receptionist. I didn’t live in Laurel Canyon. But after things ended with Chick, I had kind of a relationship with Graham Nash. But its funny how things come to pass. They were touring and he’d call me and say, “I dedicated a song to you tonight” and it’d be really romantic. But then they came back, and I was supposed to met up with Graham and nobody called. Well, apparently, he had met another woman on the road. And then suddenly my job came to an end. I was wondering what was happening, but obviously the management company didn’t like me having a relationship with him. That was a very short-lived relationship.
Sam: When Barry Putt led me to you, he told me that you had been living in Europe.
Deven: Yeah. My best fried lived in England, and soon after I left Frontline, I ended up going to Europe. I hadn’t pursued my music at all. So, I went to live with her in England for two years, and I met my ex-husband there.
Sam: What did you do there? Did you get into a different industry?
Deven: We actually did. There was a man there who made really expensive acoustic guitars and we started a business selling them for him. We sold them to Pete Townsend and Mick Jagger and all these English superstars. That was fun. Well, we went to New York and got married and pursued selling those guitars in the US. They were really sought after, and we had to import them. Then there was a music strike in New York, so we moved back to LA and started selling them here but that kind of dried up too. I guess that was the end of my fame and glory years.
Sam: What I find an interesting through line is that although you said you didn’t pursue music; you didn’t stray too far from it. Music seemed to be a part of whatever you did.
Deven: Kind of. That’s true. Well, I got pregnant and had my first child. I stopped working to raise her and lived in Hollywood. My ex-husband got out of the music business altogether. He was a songwriter, but he didn’t pursue it professionally.
Sam: Do you miss your music days?
Devon: I don’t actually miss it. No. I think it was a bit overwhelming in many ways. There is a lot of heartache that comes from trying to pursue music. But my children, and the people that I meet think I had an interesting life. But I have two girls, and their kids, and a nice home. I have a whole other life. When my children were young, we moved into an exclusive community in LA and I went back to college and got my teaching credentials, so I’ve been teaching special needs kids for over twenty-five years. I should have retired but I’m still teaching. I work with individual kids now, and not in the classroom and, of course, now that we are in lockdown its all on zoom. But I used to go to clinics. It’s the kind of work where kids are not able to attend a normal school because of emotional issues or learning difficulties. I love it. Its very rewarding and very challenging.
Sam: Barry Putt located you as part of his research for his upcoming book. I was surprised when I found out that he had located you. At which point did you find out there was still a fan base for The Hardy Boys and that people were still interested?
Deven: I don’t really think to much bout the Hardy Boys. I mean, I moved on and had other musical interests. But my daughter somehow, I don’t know how, called me one day and said ‘Someone wants to talk to you about The Hardy Boys and it was Barry. I don’t know how he got in contact with her. I should ask her. That’s how I became familiar with that people were interested.
Sam: Well, I can tell you that there are people out there, record collectors and music lovers, who really are interested. The Hardy Boys have a fanbase. It’s small, but people are still listening, and there was a time when I was actively looking for you.
Deven: Well, that’s interesting.
I did my first Hardy Boys interview in 2003, and my final one in 2021. Over five interviews an entire portait of an obscure pop oddity has come together. My other Hardy Boys interviews will return to the internet in 2022 in cojunction with the release of Barry M. Putt’s book, but it is a great thrill for me to find Deven English and tell her story, and discover she is a really nice person who I enjoyed talking with. After all these years my writing on The Hardy Boys is complete, but in my own journey I have met good people, made life long friends and discovered a boat load of bubblegum music. As The Hardy Boys sang in their 1969 album Here Comes the Hardy Boys, “That’s That.”